I’m in my soccer mom-mobile en route to the Citizen’s Cab lot.
It’s back from the weekend and, once again, back into the fire. However, today, Ivan the manager has finally made good on his recurring nine-months-old promise to get me out of 137 – rather, my “regular” spare 2976, and into a respectable taxi. I have now been assigned 26, a “new” Citizen’s Cab Prius with only 70K on her! (Really. In the taxi world 70K is a veritable baby.) And to suit, after nine maddening months, I suddenly feel liberated, anew. Yes, my fellow passengers, your driver has been reborn!
But first, I have to actually MAKE it into work…
You passengers may recall the Gough Street ritual that I go through daily on my early morning commute? It portends the omen of my day. Although, it is TBD whether it is my actions (and reactions) to my fellow travelers on this three lane, timed-light gauntlet towards the highway that will decide the timbre of my day – and/or what parallel universe into which I shift consciousness, or whether it has already been decided by the unadulterated hand of fate…
Already, I have left the house five minutes late. And this is NOT trivial, folks. This has SERIOUS implications with respect to the numbers of Audis and BMWs that I will be contending with in the battle for Gough! (Should I choose, or be compelled, to compete.)
Already, as I work each turning green in the rightmost lane, I can SMELL the harsh, disturbing blue glow of xenon headlights piercing the dark, and they encroach fast on my left! I check the side view… Yup.
It’s an Audi.
With ski racks!
And THIS is where, God willing (or not?) I either breathe… or tighten my lungs and grip secure the wheel and ready my foot, scratching for the gas pedal.
What will Alex choose today? Is there even a choice?
(Sorry, Allah. Take it up with Joseph Campbell.)
Suddenly, the xenon fades into oblivion as a warm light descends upon Alex. He realizes: No one’s going anywhere. Not a Beemer or Audi (ski racks, or no), not a taxi or a soccer mom-mobile. At the end of each and every sentient’s corporeal journey lies the same end; death.
As Audi and I now fast approach the upcoming series of right turn options which each lead to the Holy Grail that is the Octavia on-ramp to 101, I witness as Audi revs and pushes at each green, itching for his chance to jump it and cut ahead into my lane, to win the prize…
But what prize is this, really? Is that grail so shiny? I COULD fight all the way down to the last and most optimal turn onto Haight, with its inevitable green awaiting to bestow unrestricted access to the highway. Or, I can quit the race and turn onto Fell or Page first, and just wait that one simple, extra minute at a red, before turning onto Octavia.
And what does that minute even mean? Will it cost me an airport several dominoes down? Or will giving up and choosing the extra wait instead SECURE me an airport down the line?? What future will I have accessed? Or avoided?
Well, despite my rebirth, or maybe in light of it, I CHOOSE the side street, and the red that awaits on Page, with its less traveled path. I CHOOSE to let go and NOT compete with my ski-racked alter-ego. I CHOOSE… peace.
I’m walking out of the office of Citizen’s Cab with an actual MATCHING key and medallion in my hand, for 26. (Thanks, Ivan!)
And as I wind through the sea of cabs playing Where’s Waldo, I pass a distraught West African driver scratching his chin as he stands dumbfounded in front of the open hood of 2976. (There but for the grace of God.)
Sack, “She needs to be jumped, eh? That sucks. Well, the good news is she won’t lock you out for five minutes after you jump, thinking you’re stealing her.”
Kinte’, “You kno dis taxi, man?? After I jump eet, should I keepeet runnin’? Will eet stay charg’d?”
Sack, “Don’t worry. She’ll stay charged. I always get a coffee at Starbucks right after leaving the lot, with no problems. Good luck!”
And it’s back to my quest for 26, my new momma. It’s time to suckle…
I weave though the lot clicking the “unlock” button on her key, before a few cabs away, I spot the divine glow of a Prius’ lights flashing, as simultaneously I hear her sweet siren’s beckon, “Honk, honk!”
She is pristine, no doubt. No dents, no scuffs, and glowing.
I enter her.
No promo strip club air fresheners or Christmas trees. She is spotless, void of stains in carpet and seat. And (Sniff! Sniff!) no vomit stench, or cheap third-world cologne permeating throughout. Yes, I enter her, as I wonder if for the very first time in my six years as a hack, I can dispel with the alcohol wipes, and forgo my sanitize ritual!
And I do! I DO forgo!!
(Well, ok. The night driver left a fresh banana peel under the driver’s seat. Whatever. I dump it in the lot.)
And I am now ready to roll these city streets, making no money. But making no money, in style! Yes, I roll now with a renewed sense of pride, of self worth, of self respect!
I’m done with Starbucks and rolling the Mission with my caffeine, a wad of stolen napkins, and purged. I guess it’s time to get our classical KDFC on; I tune into 90.3FM.
But it’s between Chopin preludes, and Hoyt Smith is on with the weird news.
“And in today’s news: Well, folks. It turns out that gasoline is actually not the best cleaning agent for your kitchen, as a man discovered this past weekend just outside of Salt lake City, when he burned his home down. Yes, listeners, please stick with Comet, or bleach, for those hard to reach areas.”
I roll the Mission fruitless, as well as the Castro. And as I just enter the thick of the Haight, a hand rises through the fog…
Sweet! A fare!! An ACTUAL fare!!!
And as I roll to the curb the fog parts, where it is revealed that my passenger is a homeless dude with several hefty bags of life possessions filling his arms. But he does not reach for the back door, at first. And it is not locked. Looking unsure, Otis just bends over outside of my shotgun window.
And I roll it down, half way.
Ray, “Uhhh… How much to 19th & Harrison?”
Driver, “Um, it’s metered. But, I’ll do it for a flat ten bucks, if ya want.”
And Ray opens the back door, and then quickly throws three large hefty bags into the back seat.
And, damn. The cab suddenly fills with the STRONG stench of B.O. I roll down the windows. Jeez! Am I gonna fuck up my beautiful girl, 26, on our very first ride?? Then, I casually check the back, on Ray’s bags, to see if they’re doing any damage to the seats… Well, I don’t SEE any liquids, or sharp objects protruding from his bags. Hmm.
And we roll the foggy morning in silence, but for KDFC now gracing us with some music; Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.
A couple minutes on, as we roll down into the Castro, I hear Ray behind me in the back seat shuffling with some bills. Bonus! It looks like I might even get PAID for this ride! (Sweet, indeed!!)
Ray breaks radio silence.
“Uh, are you gonna be able to break a fifty?”
I check the rear view, and catch Ray handling a crisp wad of fifties and hundreds!
Or, hmm. Counterfeits? I DID have that issue with some bogus twenty I’d acquired, when trying to buy my morning coffee a few weeks back!
Driver, “Uh. Sorry, man, It’s too early for that. I can take a credit card, though.”
Ray, “Uh, I don’t have a credit card.”
Driver, “Well, we can hit the gas station at Market & Castro. You can buy something and get change there. Cool?”
And we immediately roll into the 24 hour RC gas station. Ray pops out. And I watch, as he grabs a soda and brings it to the counter… and the clerk begins shaking his head. Damn.
And Ray returns, rejected. And now a bit flustered, by what we both know was a lie.
Ray, “He said he didn’t have change.”
Driver, “Well, the Starbucks on 18th is on the way. Is that cool?”
Ray, “Yeah. I could use a coffee. Thanks for dealing with this, driver.”
Driver, “No problem.”
And within two blocks, I pull to the curb across from the Castro Starbucks and Ray goes inside, leaving me and Beethoven alone to ponder.
One minute later…
Ray comes out, sans coffee. And now it is he shaking his head. He pops back into the back of 26, now even more exasperated.
Ray, “They said they don’t take any bills larger than a twenty. What the fuck!”
Driver, “Don’t worry about it, man. I’ll take you to 19th & Harrison. Don’t worry about the fare.”
Then, I think again.
Driver, thinking again, “Actually, do you mind trying one more time? There’s that 7-11 just a couple blocks down 18th!”
Ray, tight-lipped and still fuming, “Sure.”
Lickety-split, I pull to the curb as we roll up on the 7-11. And again, Ray jumps out of 26, without looking. And he almost takes out and/or gets run down by a speeding bike who yells profanities at Ray and gives him the finger, as Ray jumps into the street and runs across and into the 7-11.
And this time, he’s in there longer than a minute. Whew!
Two minutes later…
Ray comes out with a grocery bag, and drinking from a Pepsi while also juggling a box of pizza, he looks both ways before crossing 18th and getting back in the cab.
Ray, “Finally! This time, I opened a Pepsi and started drinking it, and then shoved a doughnut in my mouth BEFORE going to the counter! Dude HAD to make change! Hey, you want some pizza?”
And though I am really glad that the B.O. stench that had been fighting for prominence over the open windows of my taxi have now been replaced by the smell of hot pizza, I decline.
Driver, “Thanks. I’m good. But, good tactic! Glad it all worked out.”
And we roll once more in silence, on towards 19th Street between Folsom and Harrison, in the Mission. And as we approach, Ray instructs me to drop him off in the middle of this industrial block between a power substation and a San Francisco Fire Department lot, which notably houses some fake apartment building that they set on fire weekly for trainees.
And Ray starts to gather his possessions, and speaks.
“You’ve been good to me, driver. Here! You keep this twenty for your trouble.”
Driver, “Wow! Thanks, man. Glad I could help!”
And so, the ice is cracked.
The day has been okay. Yeah, okay. And the town has come to life, and I am once again cruising the Haight for flags. It’s tourist season. And the center of 60’s hippiedom is on their map!
At Masonic, I’m waiting at a red, poised for the strip cafe’s, hip shoes, and head shops. But before the light turns, I hear a yelling from behind…
“TAXI! TAXI!! TAXI!!!”
Now usually, this type of over-the-top style of hailing makes this cabbie inclined to hit the gas pedal, post-haste. (That and the godforsaken two-fingered piercing whistle, which is inevitably followed by the moniker “Buddy.”) But, this cabbie can no longer afford to make such distinctions.
And before the light turns, there’s a young, dirty Haight Street runaway with scabs on his face, wearing a red beanie and tie-dyed hoodie, sitting in the back of 26.
Driver, hitting the meter, “Where to?”
And in a drastic reversal of volume and attitude, almost speaking under his breath, my passenger speaks.
Hawk, all flighty, “Uhhh. I need to go to a liquor store. The closest one. I guess, Frank’s. It’s just a few blocks up Haight. But it’s NOT for alcohol. It’s for food. I don’t want to drink. I shouldn’t drink. And I don’t want to be on drugs anymore. I need to get off of drugs. I HAVE to, driver. Please, I need you to wait at Frank’s. Cause then I need you to take me to rehab.”
With pen and waybill/clipboard perched on the steering wheel, at the ready to write down Hawk’s ultimate destination, Driver speaks.
Driver, “Uh, okay. But WHICH rehab, after Frank’s?”
Hawk, “I dunno. It’s up a hill.”
Driver, “Oh, do you mean Walden House? Back there by Buena Vista Park?”
Hawk, “No. It’s not Walden House. All I know is it’s up a hill.”
Driver puts down the clipboard.
And we drive straight up Haight Street, passing multiple convenience stores, sandwich shops, and a natural grocery store en route to procure “food” from one of the only two liquor stores in the Haight.
Driver, pressing, “Do you know what intersection the rehab is at?”
Hawk, “No. But it’s up a hill.”
Driver, pressing more, “Do you know what part of town it’s in?”
Hawk, “No. All I know is it’s up a hill. You’ll wait for me while I run into Frank’s?”
Driver, “Sure. No problem.”
And we roll up on Frank’s. And Driver pulls into an open spot across the street. And Hawk jumps out of 26, mumbling, “I’ll be right back.”
“I’ll be here,” assures Driver.
I watch, as Hawk goes inside of Frank’s for “food,” and out of view. Then, Driver clears the meter of the $5.60 fare.
And I roll.
The day has played out okay. Okay. But I’ll tell you, riding in a clean taxi that doesn’t rattle, bottom out at every dip, crush its passengers with a wildly swinging back door, and with all its stereo speakers working… THESE are the things in life, the little things, that matter. Yes, I am indeed renewed!
I’m currently rolling east up Market, empty, and coming to a stop in the left of two lanes backed up from a horde of Uber/Lyfts “blocking the box” on our green, as they failed attempting to cross Market, on 5th Street. Westfield Mall is to my left. And the touristy Powell Street cable car turnaround is to my right… right on the other side of another Citizen’s Cab stuck alongside me in traffic.
But, this isn’t just ANY Citizen’s Cab. It’s the sucker that got stuck with MY old cab, 137!!!
I yell out the shotgun, “Hey! How do you like driving 137!!”
And this old white driver, Crosby, with his thick, white wavy hair, thick Coke bottle glasses, and thick white walrus mustache, SHOUTS back.
“It’s a TOTAL piece of shit!! I WAS driving 26! But Ivan gave it away to someone else!!! I’m going to have ‘words’ with him after my shift!!”
Clearly, Crosby is remiss in having NOT noticed the GIANT RED numbers EMBLAZONED on the side of my Prius, that read, “2… 6!!!”
And the traffic ahead frees, right on cue, as I shout back, “Sorry, dude! That was ME!! Good luck!”
And I gun my beautiful girl, 26, the HELL OUT OF THERE!!!
I have milked 26 for all her 3:45 medallion is worth. Yeah, I’ve lost a half hour of potential work, switching out over137’s 4:15 medallion. But with the pain of driving 137, or even my “regular” spare, 2976, on 137’s medallion, I wasn’t staying out ’til 4:15, anyway. (Quality of life, my friends. Quality of life.)
Side note: Really, if I got off my ass and told myself there might be an early morning day tripping suit waiting for me to drive them to the airport, in an actual taxi, I COULD get up earlier and be out on the road at 3:45… But, nah. Those days are long gone.)
I’m pulling into the lot, and Ivan the manager makes a beeline for me.
“Ah-lex! Ah-lex! Tel me! How yu lik nuu cahb! I tel yu. Yess? Maan uhv mi w-ord!”
Ah-lex, “Thanks, Ivan. You’ve made me a VERY happy man! But, I have to warn you. I think you may be having a conversation with Crosby, when he rolls in from his shift. I saw him on the street, in 137.”
But Ivan just looks confused, and animatedly changes the subject.
“Ah-lex! Tel me. I heer, yu rite thiiings, ahn Face-buuk, ’bout me! Tel, me, Ah-lex! Whaat yu rite??”
Great. A Facebook friend, retired driver and expat, now living in Mexico outed me last week by “sharing” my report with Ivan. They worked together for a long time and have a good relationship. And my friend, Bob, thought he could yell at Ivan (a.k.a. MY MANAGER!) on my behalf, and get results! DOH!!! (Thanks, Bob!)
Well, while I appreciate the sentiment, walking out of work last week after failing to go out in three cabs is what finally secured me 26. And I do NOT want to be on Ivan’s radar. But alas, now I must commit…
Ah-lex, “Well, Ivan. I’ve been writing cab stories for six years now, and actually have two books out. The third will be out soon, and the WHOLE BOOK IS ABOUT YOU! But don’t worry, I only tell the truth, mostly.”
And I turn to walk, with $144. Things are looking up!
And it is a new day, sorta.
Photo by Alex SacK